We review Don Jon: A lesson in self-fulfillment

5 min read
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It isn’t often that a bromance movie hits our screens and when I say bromance I mean between a guy and his laptop. Of course I am talking about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial début Don Jon, a movie that explores issues of sexuality, romance and the perceptions that we come to believe are real when they are far from it. However, it would do a great disservice to the movie to say it is entirely about porn; instead Jon’s addiction to porn is a manifestation of something far deeper.

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It is surprising that at the tender age of just 32 Levitt can approach delicate themes in such a subtle and efficient manner, as if he has spent far longer behind the camera than he actually has. Anyway, back to porn. Our protagonist is well-built Jon ‘Don Jon’ Martello, a man who spends most of his time either working out at the gym, working out on a new girl or working out with his laptop; he is disillusioned with love, has a strained relationship with his family and is desperate to feel something real, although he doesn’t know this yet. Right from the opening shots of him sitting behind his laptop explaining his porn ‘routine’ we meet a guy who has very unrealistic expectations of porn and his numerous encounters with women are disappointing because of these. In order to cope with his life he has a routine, gym, church, family, women then porn, a bit more porn and then a bit more. Levitt does a nice job of repeating many shots to bring this element through, from the same camera angle of him walking to church to the exact same shots of him entering the gym. The first half of the movie deals with the porn issue in a light-hearted and funny way but slowly this evolves into a more serious drama with great performances from all the cast.

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One evening Jon meets what he calls a ‘dime’, the highest mark in his system of rating women (a 1-10 point system). This dime comes in the rather beautiful to look at (not so much to listen to) Scarlett Johansson – donning an at times convincing New Jersey accent. Unlike all the other girls Jon picks up, Barbara Sugarman refuses sex for the first few weeks of their relationship because it is more ‘romantic’ that way. Much like Jon’s addiction to porn Barbara has a romantic addiction to Hollywood romance movies, something that spills over into her expectations of relationships. She expects her lover to submit to her fully, much like the men in the crappy romance movies she forces  Jon to watch. It is subtle at first but her control issues slowly manifest themselves, from making Jon take night classes (to improve himself and his reputation) to changing the look of his apartment. At one stage she even tells him he is pathetic for wanting to clean his own place! In contrast to this enter enter Esther, played by Julianne Moore, an over-sharing mature woman desperately in need of a shoulder to cry on. Barbara’s false world stands in direct conflict of Esther, someone who accepts what is without the need to control. In fact Esther’s acceptance of John’s addiction and her questioning of it contribute to Jon’s evolution through the film, far more so than the huge fight Barbara has when catching her ‘Knight’ playing with his lance…

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As I mentioned briefly before this movie isn’t just about porn it’s about the relationships Jon has with his family, religion and friends. Some of my favourite scenes are around Jon’s family dinner table. Tony Danza as Jon’s father deserves a special mention for his humorous appreciation of his son’s new girlfriend and the scenes where he tries to assert his manhood over his son are very memorable (and damn funny). The family serves as a reference point for Jon, one that is as confusing as his love of porn. The expectations of the mother, the anger issues of daddy and the indifference of the sister (par one great scene) all contribute to this objectification of reality as a way of dealing with life in a rather superficial world. Religion also seems to only serve as a means of forgiving himself for his promiscuity and for focusing a bit too much on pornhub. He is constantly saying Hail Marys while working out as his penance but realises that more often than not these acts have nothing to do with his ‘crime’ and are issued by priests who are completely indifferent to his confessions.

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Don Jon is a movie that deals with false expectations that are hammered into us from the media. The expectation of a Prince Charming from Barbara to the belief that porn is better than a real relationship, Levitt balances comedy and drama perfectly in a movie where no one is made out to be the guilty party. It is the plight of Jon though that stands out and Levitt’s attempt at creating an ‘everyman’ that will have you accusing your boyfriends/husbands of malepractice when you get home (no, I didn’t spell that wrong). Although the first half is rather steamy (with some interesting hallway antics) the film contains some very touching moments I won’t spoil here. I have questioned the need for movies to contain extremely graphic sexual content (like the upcoming Nymphomaniac) when dealing with subjects like this. Sure, you see some boobs in this but nothing that screams ‘PORN’ which is interesting as that is one of the main subject matters. It certainly shows a level of maturity in Levitt that surprised me. That being said, watching this with ouma and oupa is probably something you may want to avoid, and if you don’t you may want to get that checked out…

Last Updated: January 15, 2014

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